Monday, September 12, 2011

Maya Angelou: Global Renaissance Woman -- Vonnie Davis

Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope. -- Maya Angelou 

Maya Angelou is one of the most renowned and influential female voices of our time. Hailed as a global renaissance woman, Dr. Angelou is a celebrated poet, novelist, educator, dramatist, producer, actress, historian, filmmaker and civil rights activist.

She was born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1928 and raised by her grandmother in Arkansas. During her young years, Angelou experienced the brutality of racial discrimination, but she also absorbed the unshakable faith and values of traditional African-American family, community, and culture.

As a teenager, her love for the arts won her a scholarship to study dance and drama at San Francisco's Labor School. At the age of fourteen, she dropped out to become San Francisco/s first African-American female cable car conductor. She later finished high school, giving birth to her son a few weeks after graduation. As a young single mother, she supported her son by working as a waitress and cook, however her passion for music, dance, performance and poetry would soon take center stage.
I believe that every person is born with talent.-- Maya Angelou
In 1954 and 1955, Dr. Angelou toured Europe with a production of the opera Porgy and Bess. She studied modern dance and later danced on television variety shows and, in 1957, recorded her first album, Calypso Lady. In 1958, she moved to New York, where she joined the Harlem Writers Guild, acted in the historic Off-Broadway production of Jean Genet's The Blacks and wrote and performed Cabaret for Freedom.
In 1960, Dr. Angelou moved to Cairo, Egypt where she served as editor of the English language weekly The Arab Observer. The next year, she moved to Ghana where she taught at the University of Ghana's School of Music and Drama, worked as feature editor for The African Review and wrote for The Ghanaian Times.
I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. -- Maya Angelou

During her years abroad, Dr. Angelou read and studied voraciously, mastering French, Spanish, Italian, Arabic and the West African language Fanti. Soon after her return to the United States, she became the Northern Coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership conference. After King's assassination, with the encouragement of her friend, James Baldwin, she began work on the book that would become I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

The list of her published verse, non-fiction and fiction now includes more than thirty bestselling titles. A trailblazer in film and television, Dr. Angelou wrote the screenplay and composed the score for the 1072 film, Greorgia, Georgia. Her script, the first by an African American woman ever to be filmed was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.
Dr. Angelou has received over thirty honorary degrees and is Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University. She's been a shining example to many women, no matter our race.

How important it is for us to recognize and celebrate our heroes and she-roes! -- Maya Angelou
Back in the nineties, I was a non-traditional college student at Penn State. One day, I was in the library showing a young student how to do research when the student, Erin, spied books by Angelou. "Oh, I love Maya's poetry," she oozed. When I told her I'd never heard any of her verse, Erin pulled a book from the shelf and opened it to the index. "Here, I'll share my favorite poem." Suddenly she was the teacher.

She flipped through the book until she found the page she sought. "My mother read this poem to me almost every night. It's my ultimate favorite: Phenominal Woman." Then she began reading it to me in a lively jazzbeat, with a cadence I'll never forget.

                "I walk into a room

Just as cool as you please,

And to a man,

The fellows stand or

Fall down on their knees.

Then they swarm around me,

A hive of honey bees.

I say,

It’s the fire in my eyes,

And the flash of my teeth,

The swing in my waist,

And the joy in my feet.

I’m a woman


Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.

Men themselves have wondered

What they see in me.

They try so much

But they can’t touch

My inner mystery.

When I try to show them,

They say they still can’t see.

I say,

It’s in the arch of my back,

The sun of my smile,

The ride of my breasts,

The grace of my style.

I’m a woman


Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.

Now you understand

Just why my head’s not bowed.

I don’t shout or jump about

Or have to talk real loud.

When you see me passing,

It ought to make you proud.

I say,

It’s in the click of my heels,

The bend of my hair,

the palm of my hand,

The need for my care.

’Cause I’m a woman


Phenomenal woman,

That’s me."

To all you phenomenal women who've stopped at Roses of Prose today--and ALL of our blog readers are phenomenal women, every one--remember, we were all meant to shine. Be a strong woman. Be a "she-ro." Be phenomenal!


Margaret Tanner said...

Hi Vonnie,

Wonderfully interesting blog. Maya certainly warrants the title of a phenomenal woman. Thanks for telling us about her.



Jerri Hines/Carrie James-Haynes said...

I've been a huge fan of Maya Angelou for years. What a wonderful blog! Truly phenomenal.

Vonnie Davis said...

Her accomplishments amaze me. I love that she rose above the bindings of segregation and made a positive, productive life for herself. What an example to others she's been.

Alison H. said...

I'm ashamed to admit I knew almost nothing about Maya Angelou because I've never been into poetry, but this post really openened my eyes! What an accomplished woman, and I LOVED the poem. Thanks so much for bringing this to us!

Jannine Gallant said...

Maya Angelou is indeed an inspiration! Loved the poem, Vonnie. What a great way to start my morning. I'm feeling phenomenal!

Vonnie Davis said...

Oh, Jannine, you are phenomenal!!! You had a dream of writing and YOU made it come true. Phenomenal woman, that's you.

Alison, I love any poem that praises the sway of a woman's hips, 'cause honey mine sway no matter how much latex I wrap 'em in. I study poetry for the poet's use of words. Their imagery is awesome. I lack that spark of imagination to use words in new ways and envy theirs.

Judy said...

Phenomenal, Vonnie! I think it's so important to connect with strong women who glory in their womanhood and inspire us to do the same!

Vonnie Davis said...

Thanks for stopping by, Judy. Yes, women need to celebrate themselves more. Not only are we strong--can you imagine a man getting cramps every month or going through childbirth?--but we're flexible, too. Yes, flexible. Put a man in a pair of high heels once and tell him HE has to dance backwards. See what happens then! **evil grin**

Laura Breck said...

Vonnie, wonderful poem, and wonderfull poet! I've been a follow of Dr. Angelou's work since she read her poem "On the Pulse of Morning" at President Clinton's inagural in 1993. I'm adding the link for any of you who don't know this poem. It's such a strong messaage of hope.

Vonnie Davis said...

Thanks for the link, Laura. Hope is what keeps us going, I think. Hope and love.